Sunday, March 4, 2012

“Shout Out” Series: Corey Reifinger

We each have an individual way of creating: bringing distinctive experiences, diverse talents and a unique voice to the creative table. If we learn others’ processes, we can enhance our own, in a sense build better creative tools to use when designing. Learning the processes of those we respect and admire is a tool that furthers our knowledge of graphic design and serves to present endless inspiration and countless methods of creation.

The intent of the “shout out” series is to feature design innovators, gain insight into their creative process, discover how their philosophies influence my own idea generating/design process and offer you a chance for creative inspiration and growth. From a personal standpoint, I want to determine if this hybrid of creativity leads my designs down surprising, unexplored pathways ultimately expanding my own creative toolbox.

Corey Reifinger

Corey Reifinger is a graphic designer and visual thinker originally from Eastern Pennsylvania. Corey has a long history of creating with flare and attributes the foundation of his creativity to healthy doses of Nick Jr., farming landscapes and occasional cow tipping shenanigans. (I wonder how many of you know what cow tipping is?! Cow tipping is the activity of sneaking up on a sleeping, upright cow and pushing it over for fun. (1) As far as I know, cattle don’t sleep standing up and conclude cow tipping must be a myth! I’m attributing Corey’s cow tipping comment to his off the cuff sense of humor and vivid imagination.)

Attempting to explore various interests, Corey dabbled in over a dozen part-time jobs throughout high school eventually narrowing his focus to the arts. After acquiring a fine arts degree from a local community college, he focused his efforts on earning a BFA in Communication Design from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

You need drive and determination to excel in the visual communication field. Corey certainly supports this point by taking on three in-house design internships while working towards his BFA. One week prior to graduation from Kutztown University, he received and accepted an offer to join the creative agency, TracyLocke in Fairfield, Connecticut. He works as a Graphic Designer/Art Director promoting global brands Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Gatorade, Starbucks, Frito-Lay and others. Corey, congrats on your impending two-year anniversary at TracyLocke!

Favorite visual communication design quote Corey lives by
“Create the world you want to live in.” -Anonymous
“I didn’t get it from a kitchen plaque at Bed Bath & Beyond I swear!”

Three self identified, descriptive words best describing “Corey Reifinger”
• Humble
• Goofy
• Persistent

The Reifinger design philosophy
“Everyone ticks differently and there are ten ways to do the same thing.” Corey believes working as a visual thinker you must take time throughout your career to identify your unique skill sets, craft a game plan and utilize this plan to tackle creative problems. “If you don’t find some level of fulfillment in your work, you have the power to change it.”

Another comment Corey makes regarding his design philosophy is “Design should raise eyebrows, say something and turn heads.” If a design is to communicate it must emotionally connect with your intended audience. How many times have you heard me say this: If a design solution is expected, it’s boring. If it’s boring, no one pays attention to it. If no one pays attention to it, you haven’t communicated anything. Design must pique the viewer’s curiosity, engage and command them to take some sort of action. Corey’s comment is on point with this philosophy!

Awards or publications featuring the design stylings of “Corey Reifinger”
“There was that “Most Artistic” award my freshman year in high school… but no official publications as of yet.” [The “shout out” series] is the first! Cheers to that. Getting acknowledged by your respected peers or community is quite an accomplishment, but I’ve seen you can win an award one week and somehow find yourself unemployed the next. A major reason why I believe design community support and social recognition like the “shout out” series keeps us inspired and relevant in a world we have a huge visual impact on.”

There’s merit in being acknowledged and recognized by your peers. 
I’m speaking directly to new designers about winning awards and being featured in publications when stating this comment. Citing accomplishments on your resume and self-promotional materials is an excellent way to build your reputation. Each award/publication is another opportunity to separate yourself from the countless other designers competing for the same jobs you are. Take advantage of every opportunity you can! 

A standout, defining moment in Corey's career thus far
“It’s most rewarding knowing my ideas can manifest into something so much bigger and be shared with so many people. My work is my voice. Every time [my work] makes it one more round on a job, makes it past one more client or is noticed by a peer, it feels like a small inner high five.”

Don’t all artists have egos? Yours may be big or may be small; it’s in there somewhere! It doesn’t matter if our craft is fine art based, architectural, interior or graphic. The experience of presenting our work to the world conjures up an undeniable sense of accomplishment. I get where Corey comes from when speaking of that “small inner high five.” In graphic design, that feeling of accomplishment is often a self-rewarding one. A fine artist paints a picture proudly signing their name for the entire world to see. A designer creates a piece and it communicates anonymously. No one (OK, aside from family members, a few close friends and design coworkers) knows who the artist is. See what I mean?!

Corey highlights his opportunity to illustrate an “Idea Machine” visually depicting the creative process from concept to fruition as his defining moment to date. The graphic was integrated into TracyLocke’s re-branding efforts, printed on shirts for employees and even mounted onto their conference room wall. An animated video is currently in production too.

Corey's “Idea Machine” illustration visually depicting the creative process from concept to fruition. 

Creative influences connected to Corey's work
“The art/design field has always intimidated and overwhelmed me. In a weird way that awkwardness has been the fuel that pushed me to discover my own style and artistic path. I looked beyond the trendy and what was being done in art while in college. I was determined to push my talent to see where it would take me.”

I’m pleased to learn Corey applies one of my personal design principles here: ying when others yang. Look beyond what’s “cool” at the moment and push to make your own, unique mark. Keep an ear to the ground, educate yourself about what’s current in visual communication and run in the opposite direction as fast as you can! Ying when others yang for it’s the best way to stand out from the crowd. If you use design elements (colors, typefaces, etc) everyone else is using how can your message possibly stand out?

When speaking of his early work, Corey cites connections to pop culture, cartoons, punk rock album art, concert posters, sports logos, skate/surf brands, stand up comedy and Ancient and American War History (yes, he minored in history! This history background must offer Corey an endless supply of historical references and inspiration throughout his creative process).

Corey pulled elements of sarcasm and surprise into his illustrations/designs adopted from the punk rock attitude of embracing the “different” and doing what you love as opposed to doing what society expects you to do. Punk as a movement challenged mainstream culture and values. The punk rock music genre developed during the 1970s in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Punk bands created fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. (2)

The punk phenomenon that inspired Corey expressed a rejection of prevailing values in ways that extended beyond the music. Punk fashion deliberately outraged conventionality with theatrical use of cosmetics and hairstyles, mutilated clothing using objects for artistic effect: pants and shirts were cut, torn or wrapped with tape and written on with marker or defaced with paint; safety pins and razor blades were used as jewelry. (3) As an American graphic design style, punk represented a youthful rebellion in which imagery often emulated comic book art. (4)

Corey recalls initially not knowing if he had what it took to be successful in this extremely competitive field but also knows finding success wasn’t his true focus either. Personal motivation and self-determination were and are guiding his creative path. His goal then and now: create something with substance, something you can stand behind. If others respond, that’s all the better. Working with mainstream brands today, Corey still holds true to his personal motivation continually fighting to keep that inner punk kid alive, trying new things, breaking the rules and charting his own path. Somehow that path led him to success even without success being the intended goal. Isn’t it funny how things work out like that?

As of late, Corey finds inspiration in illustrators and designers incorporating human and cultural elements into their art particularly works telling stories without citing a word. These pieces often reflect the artist's unique upbringing, environment and social views on serious topics but in a humorous, relatable way. Corey initially picked up on such themes in early childhood reading heavily illustrated children's stories (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Stinky Cheese Man and Dr. Suess) and newspaper comics (Garfield and The Far Side Gallery) and this still pushes him today.

Corey admires artists connecting with and impacting the masses through personal, hand created work. Visual thinkers Jeremy Fish, AJ Fosik, Stephan Doitschinoff and McBess use this approach and Corey finds them on the top of his “designers to watch” list. “[Hand created work] is such a basic and often overlooked talent in today’s digital age. It's something creative minds adore and hold close to their hearts. [Hand created work] makes me feel human, keeps my imagination young and feeds my current work in graphic design.” 

Corey enjoys folklore, nature or history themes uniting with popular culture visually interpreted in sarcastic or humorous ways. The mystique and stories ingrained into Mexican folk art directly relate to Corey’s human and cultural inspiration. He discovered this during his undergraduate studies when participating in a study abroad course to Mexico. The term folk art is given to artistic creations made by indigenous people who have had no formal artistic training. A folk art item is hand made and has a functional purpose as opposed to fine art that’s created for aesthetic purposes only. There are a plethora of natural materials used in the creation of Mexican folk art. You can find more than a hundred types of clay; soft, light and hard wood, metals like copper, tin, silver and gold; vegetable fibers such as cotton, sisal and agave, leather and wool; stones, like onyx, obsidian, amber and opals; and on top of all these a wide assortment of vegetable, mineral and animal dyes. (5)

Corey keeps these historical, punk, cultural and hand created inspirations in the back of his mind when designing for they establish a more tactile, unexpected connection with the viewer.

Corey's words of wisdom to impart to other designers
Corey has several insights to offer you:

• “Find your niche. Hone your skills. Design for yourself first, satisfy your aesthetic needs and then cover other bases.” Corey’s comment immediately brings to mind the difference between design as service and design as art discussed in Ross Moody’s “shout out.” Find your niche (your unique visual voice), design for yourself (satisfy your desire to be creative) and then cover other bases (make certain you solve your clients’ communication challenges and compel your audience to take action). We have to push to find a balance between the service and the art aspects of design!

• “Let your work ethic speak for you.” How you approach design speaks volumes about you as a person. Be reliable and accountable. Take a proactive role in the creative process when you’re on a creative team and when you’re working with clients. Be a positive force for change!

• “You’re not holier than anyone else and nothing is “original.” Sample work and get inspired, but spin it your own way. Most importantly, don’t set limitations for yourself.” Don’t have the audacity to think your idea is original. It doesn’t matter how out of the box you think your concept is; chances are it’s been done before. It’s your responsibility to research and determine if your “original” idea has been executed before and develop ways to modify it and make it your own.

What is your creative process? Do you have a routine you follow when you create?
“I usually set the mood (bathrobes or candles aren’t acceptable in the office).” When initiating the creative process and brainstorming, Corey is most comfortable grabbing a drink, turning on music and using a pencil and paper to get ideas down on paper. His initial references come from a wide array of sources including his self-identified illustrator/artist inspirations to architecture and even cooking. He often tackles one element of the design at a time; it could be a headline lock up, logo or background texture. Once comfortable with his direction, Corey pulls others into the creative discussion receiving valuable feedback. “If I’m completely lost, I shamelessly scream for help or revisit the drawing board. Overtime happens.”

Examples that represent the “Reifinger” design aesthetic

Code Red Underground Concert Posters
Code Red Mountain Dew visually connects different posters integrating visual elements representing two featured hip-hop artists’s unique styles and stories. BIG K.R.I.T (left) proudly raps about the south where he’s from. Corey’s illustrations give a graphic nod to this pride and to the hip-hop genre of music. The same principles are applied to the Cool Kids poster (right). The Cool Kids are a younger, more experimental group promoting their new album with graphics reflective of a NYC market scene. Corey also integrated personal illustrations into this poster creating a street art/concert poster feeling.

In-Store Halloween Display
Corey illustrated monsters and haunted houses in this Halloween themed point of sale display promoting chips and soda products. The interactive cardboard haunted mansion captured the attention of kids and adults alike emotionally endearing them to the fun products contained within.

Taco Bell Cups
While concepting ideas for a new Late Night Taco Bell cup design Corey envisioned the ideal Taco Bell consumer: a young guy hanging with his friends late at night who’d appreciate a good laugh. Bursting with color and featuring elements a wild teen might enjoy (music, extreme sports, burritos, night creatures, wacky mountain scenes, etc.), Corey created a product they wouldn’t just throw away, but view as a piece of art and hold onto or collect.

Corey “Reifingerian” design attributes
After reviewing Corey’s body of work, I’m going out on a limb here and taking a crack at extracting some elements that represent his visual voice:

Illustration: hand drawn and vector UNITE!
My conversation with Corey focuses on the role illustration plays in visual communication. Time and time again we come back to the topic of hand drawn meeting uniting with digital to form a hybrid. After reviewing each of his chosen design examples, this point is obvious! Illustration makes its way into many of Corey’s works. It is an excellent way to bring his perspective and voice into each design solution.

Punk rock attitude: sarcasm and surprise 
Call it sarcasm, surprise, wit, humor… there’s attitude in there and it’s coming through in Corey’s choice of illustrated visuals, bold colors and biting verbiage (granted, his examples don’t feature much copy to highlight this exact point, but attitude is integrated throughout.) You’re trying to evoke some sort of response from the viewer, correct? Well, like Corey, use your insight, your perspective, sense of humor and attitude to do it!

Incorporating human and cultural elements: Mexican folk art
I’m impressed and intrigued with Corey’s background in Ancient and American War History. I’ve taught a few history of graphic design courses throughout my career (Well, more than a few). My exposure to design movements, styles, innovations and designers has presented boundless inspiration to pull from. I find myself integrating these references into my work constantly. Our own visual communication history is an endless resource at the ready to motivate and inspire you! Corey found a way to feed his idea generation process with his varied background. Push yourself to do the same.

Corey Reifinger’s influence on my idea generating/design process
As previously stated, the intent of the “shout out” series is to feature design innovators, gain insight into their creative process, discover how their philosophies influence my own idea generating/design process and offer you a chance for creative inspiration and growth. From a personal standpoint, I want to determine if this hybrid of creativity leads my designs down surprising, unexplored pathways ultimately expanding my own creative toolbox.

This process of learning how someone creates continues to captivate me. Corey’s “shout out” is a brilliant example of this! I’m gaining insight into his work, learning about his influences and methods of creating and actually witnessing these inspirations being woven into his work. While each solution is distinct, there are certain attributes and visual elements uniting his entire collection of work.

Choosing and creating a design inspired by and reflective of the featured designer is a challenging aspect of this “shout out” series. Corey’s inspired direction quickly presented itself during our discussion. Corey’s opportunity to illustrate an “Idea Machine” visually depicting the creative process from concept to fruition is his defining moment in design to date. This “shout out” series is about the idea generation process, building effective creative tools and getting inspired. The “Idea Machine” concept is the perfect foundation for my Corey inspired design.

After reevaluating my own creative process and pin pointing reappearing commonalities throughout, I narrowed my creative process down to five steps: research, explore, play, happy accidents and execute. As basic as these steps are, my creative process is not as simple as connecting the dots. I find myself working through the steps of this process several times, often circling back and revisiting previously taken steps. While I’m drawn to the simplicity of connecting the dots, this process truly is riddled with starts, stops, twists, turns and barricades similar to an experience you’d have solving a maze. A maze is a puzzle in the form of a complex and confusing series of pathways through which the solver must find a route to successfully solve the puzzle. (6) That’s the perfect metaphor to represent my process! Go through the maze, explore different pathways and eventually work through each step of my process. Circle back if you need to and understand there are numerous pathways leading you to the final execution of the project.

As previously stated, Corey is heavily inspired by design that tells stories visually without citing a word. Wanting my solution to follow a similar path, I develop pictographs representing my creative process. A pictograph is a visual sign or symbol conveying its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object. (7) These pictographs align with Corey’s visual story telling inspiration and present an opportunity to integrate the hand drawn, digital hybrid illustration found in much of his work. I admit I struggle with the concept of communicating my process without using words. Not the visually representing each step part, but clearly offering a frame of reference when a viewer first sees the design. Without any verbal explanation included are visuals enough to communicate this complex, layered concept?

Some aspects of my hybrid design I want to highlight
Today’s secret word: idea!
Look closely at my Corey inspired design and you might discover a hidden word. As you make your way through the maze you’re inadvertently working through the visually abstracted word “idea!” The foundation of the maze radiates from this integral element. The icons representing my process are strategically placed in the counter of each individual letter. This subliminal suggestion elicits the point: every one of my ideas can trace its roots back through the process. In many effective design solutions the concept is alluded to through type, imagery, headlines, etc. and is rarely spoken outright. If you happen to see the “idea!” hidden in my design, great! If not, its message is still suggesting and supporting the other elements in the design.

Designer Lance Wyman, you’re radiating some good vibes
I can’t express how psyched I am that Mexican folk art directly connects to Corey’s inspiration. One of my absolute favorite designs of all time is Lance Wyman’s graphic solution for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Inspired by ancient Aztec artifacts and Mexican folk art, Wyman used pattern forming radiating parallel lines and bright pure hues throughout the graphics system. These patterns also make their way into Wyman’s Sixties Op Art inspired kinetic typography transforming the five ring Olympic symbol into the number 68. (8) The term “Op Art” implies illusion and visuals often appear to be moving or vibrating due to precise, mathematically based compositions. (9)

The optical patterns (created from outward radiating parallel lines) are an important kinetic application of Wyman’s logotype and visually suggest Mexico’s cultural influence is expanding from its center. During the games, the pattern was applied as painted wall murals throughout Mexico City, as a cast pattern on the Olympic torch, as film titles, as postage stamps, as the fabric used for the uniforms of the Olympic guides and as large scale patterns painted directly on the plazas of the sport venues radiating outward from the pedestrian entrance portals.

Lance Wyman’s identity system powerfully expresses a sense of place and culture and visually exclaims this is the look of the Mexican 1968 Olympic Games. (8)

Lance Wyman’s graphic solution for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Inspired by ancient Aztec artifacts and Mexican folk art, Wyman used pattern forming radiating parallel lines and bright pure hues throughout the graphics system.

Did I say Op Art? You bet I did!
Thank Lance Wyman for our continued discussion on the Op Art style! It’s a design style I gravitate towards and go figure, it’s one of Wyman’s influences too! Feel free to read through Shane Walsh’s “shout out” to gain more insight into the Op Art movement and view my Op Art inspired design. In lieu of this, pleaser refer to the basic hallmarks of the Op Art style outlined below:
• Op Art exists to fool the eye.
• Op Art is geometrically based and almost always non-representational.
• Op Art employs perspective and juxtaposition of color techniques.
• In Op Art, positive and negative spaces in a composition are of equal importance.

So at last, I present you my Dr. Frankendezign creation!

 Find your creative process puzzling?
Here's an idea, solve it!

Chart your path and reveal one amazing journey.

My creative process narrowed down to five steps: research, explore, play, happy accidents and execute. As basic as these steps are, my creative process is not as simple as connecting the dots but riddled with starts, stops, twists and turns similar to an experience you’d have solving a maze. How fitting to have this hanging on my office wall. Thanks for the idea and motivation Corey!

In conclusion

This experimental “shout out” series is far from complete. I’ll continue to champion learning the processes of those we respect and admire. This practice not only furthers our knowledge of graphic design, but also serves to continually present endless inspiration and countless methods of creation. Now, I offer up a challenge. Find who inspires you and ask, “How do you create?” You might be surprised by their response and have a chance to take an amazing journey.

Interested in taking part in the “shout out” series? Then by all means, give a shout out and let me know!

Blog Resources:
(1) Malvern, Jack (November 5, 2005). "Cow-tipping myth hasn't got a leg to stand on". London: Times Online.
(6) Hermann Kern (2000). Through the labyrinth: designs and meanings over 5000 years. Prestel. p. 23. ISBN 9783791321448.
(7) Gove, Philip Babcock. (1993). Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. Merriam-Webster Inc. ISBN 0-87779-201-1.

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